REVIEW: Horizon: Zero Dawn

Monday, March 13th, 2017

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Horizon Zero Dawn | Machines

The Machines start out small and easy to kill with a single Silent Strike.

But Aloy and the human tribes are only one half of this world, the other half are the sentient machines which populate the world. Many of these machines have very obvious agricultural purposes, but some of them seem to be militaristic and aggressive in design. You will learn over time that the machines have become increasingly aggressive against humans in the past two decades, and that several new designs for them have appeared. That tells you two things; the first is that new machines are still being created all the time, and the second is that something in the world is changing. You also discover quickly that there are certain humans that can corrupt machines to make them work for them, and they can also use those machines to corrupt other ones around them. Aloy finds a way to steal that technology for herself and make better use of it. Afterwards it becomes an important mechanic in the game that she is able to learn how to control machines to make them either rideable or make them temporary allies to fight on her side. She can only turn a machine over to her side if she takes them by surprise and only if it’s a Machine type that she has learned its construction (she learns new ones by reaching the end of a Cauldron and downloading the Machine Schematics). That means that even the largest enemies in the game (Earthbiters, Stormwinds, and Thunderjaws) can be potentially controlled by Aloy and used for her own purposes. The one weakness of this game mechanic is that she can’t command them to go anywhere, they are only going to go after an enemy that enters their aggro circle. However, the larger the Machine, the larger aggro circle they have (the Thunderjaw aggro circle is simply massive).

Horizon Zero Dawn | Cauldron

Each Cauldron was different and they were all surprisingly fun.

As a result of the ability to control the Machines, Cauldron diving becomes an important task that you will want to do fairly early on. But they are not a part of the main story, they are only a side-quest, so the game can be completed without ever doing them. And that is one of the major characteristics about this game is that the main story is very fascinating and surprisingly long, but there is a lot of side stuff that is optional but go a long way towards making the experience a much more satisfying one. You could potentially never download the data out of a Tallneck machine, the map does fill in simply by you entering that area and exploring around it. But each Tallneck has its own area of influence and the zone has a different design that will allow you to get high enough to jump onto the roving giant in order to download all the map data for that region. If I just did a critical path run with this game, I’m sure that I could have finished it in slightly under 20 hours. Much like a Zelda game, the levels really only increase your health and they give you 1 Skill Point to use. But you can also gain Skill Points from a lot of different quests, for example; most of the major story quests, a lot of optional quests, and areas that are either very difficult (Cauldrons) or have a large story importance.

Horizon Zero Dawn | Discovery

In addition to trading with Special Merchants, the exploration items fill in the world story.

There are plenty of collectables to find in the game, and they can all be traded into Special Merchants for nice rewards, but more importantly they fill in details about the world such as the location where all these events happen (an area of the world that I’m intimately familiar with). That made it much more satisfying to search for everything than it would be if there was only a Trophy reward for finding all of them. And even though there were many objects to find on the map, it never felt overwhelming or just busy work. And there were always enough hints about where they were located (obviously Viewpoints will be high up in the region shown on the map, etc) that it never was frustrating for me to search them out. One feature of the part of the world where this story takes place is that the land there is extremely diverse, so even though most of the preview footage showed her in a very cold and and mountainous region, there is a lot of different scenery to look forward to. In addition you will discover that while the Nora have gone back to a tribe that bears a lot of similarity to the Native Americans and the Vikings, other peoples have not gone in a similar direction. In fact, the greater population of this area of the world seems to combine more aspects of the Mayan tribes and the Romans.

Horizon Zero Dawn | Map

The game has the best overworld map that I’ve ever seen, and should be the new standard.

Beyond those cultural influences, it’s very interesting how diverse the cast of characters is. All the characters run the gamut from different size and shapes to different races and cultures and also a couple cases of sexual preference. In fact, it turned out to be a major spoiler that I figured out fairly early on something about the diversity that didn’t add up. And that is one of the most fantastic aspects of this game is that the story and the science behind the story do work together. So if something is not making sense, it’s probably for a good reason. Also taking place in this region of the world turned out not to just be for the diversity in its weather and topography. There are certain businesses, facilities, and government institutions that make a whole lot of sense for them to take place in the Old World. As a scientist it made me extremely happy that all those details were played out so well and so much thought went into everything. The fact that this game is the first one in a series and that the developer is the makers of the Killzone franchise (which I kind of liked, but didn’t love) deeply impresses me.

Horizon Zero Dawn | Dialogue

There was a lot of good dialogue but there were a few technical hitches.

As you can tell from all the screenshots so far (and you’ve probably heard online), this is one of the most beautiful games ever made. I played on a normal PlayStation 4 in 1080p and it was still the most beautiful game that I’ve personally ever seen. But even then it made me start to crave a PlayStation 4 Pro and a 4k Television just so I could see it in all its beauty. There was only one aspect of the game that didn’t look it’s best, and that was the face to face dialogue. It’s not a huge thing, but there were a few funky hitches with the character models when they were talking to each other. But the character models in this game are so beautiful and expressive that I have no doubts that being at the bleeding edge of technology is what tripped them up here and I have no doubts that it will be fixed for the sequel. This new game engine is truly amazing, and having both Guerrilla and Kojima using this engine to move gaming forward is deeply exciting. But I do want to stress that the dialogue itself was very stellar and the voice acting was all top notch, it was only a technical glitch that I got used to over time in the game.

Horizon Zero Dawn | Hunting

For as amazing as the story was, just being out there hunting machines could keep me happy too.

That is literally the only thing bad I can say about this game. I suspect that this game will turn out to be a classic thought about for years to come. I earned the Platinum Trophy in 69 hours of playtime, and still can’t wait to get back to play it again. I’m going to keep my 100% clear and just go back and hunt some more and play in the world, and then I would also like to go through the story again to re-experience one of the greatest gaming stories that I’ve played in years. So they have combined some of the most fun and addictive gameplay with one of the best stories and put it in the most beautiful gaming engine I’ve ever seen. I was excited going into this game and I had high expectations, but they were all met and exceeded. I cannot recommend this title enough, even for it’s normal MSRP of $59.99. From the reviews I’ve read on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild so far, it looks like that game is also going to be a classic, and I’m really happy about that as a fan of that franchise over the decades. But with Horizon: Zero Dawn I have not had a single moment of regret that I’ve chosen to wait and see on the Nintendo Switch to find out if they are going to have longer term support than they have for their previous couple home consoles, for now my Zelda itch has been more than adequately scratched. I know already that Sony is going to be killing it during that time, and with Guerrilla Games providing the new face of their console I cannot be happier with where my PlayStation 4 is going and the entertainment I’m getting out of it. Horizon: Zero Dawn might be the prime example of what this generation of gaming can aspire to be.

Review Score
Overallwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com

Review Copy Purchased By Author

About William Haderlie

Born in the 1970's, I've been an avid participant for much of video game history. A lifetime of being the sort of supergeek entrenched in the sciences and mathematics has not curbed my appreciation for the artistry of video games, cinema, and especially literature.


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